Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sea Lions, not Seals

As far as I could determine, sea lions have very simple goals in life. If they aren't swimming, they are sleeping. If they aren't sleeping, they are swimming. That's about all we saw them doing, and they do it very well.
The sand must get cold during the night, because they like to roll close to each other when sleeping. One morning we took all our snorkel gear to the beach, and spread a towel, trying to keep the sand out of the gear. But this young sea lion decided we brought the towel just for him to nap while protected from the cold sand. Dick lay on a towel next to him, and the pup sniffed briefly, decided Dick was not a source of food, rolled over and went to sleep himself.

We didn't see any beach masters on our trip, but there were plenty of pups. This one is a newborn, evidenced by his still cloudy eyes and wrinkled skin. We were concerned because normally the mother wouldn't leave one this young to go fishing herself.

Mother and pup know each other by scent and the sound of their voices. When a female returns to the beach, unattended pups rush up to her, sniffing and calling loudly. If it is his mother, he quickly settles to nursing on the fat enriched milk. It's important that they put on fat early in life, since that blubber keeps them warm in the chill water of the islands. If it's not his mother, she moves on quickly, and he returns to the search, sounding more piteous each time he fails to find his mother.

One pair of boisterous young males practiced sparing with each other, preparing for the day when they might compete for their own harem on the beach.

Did I mention that sea lions like to sleep no matter what else is going on?

Actually, a soft sandy beach isn't required for a nap at all. They can even climb up a cliff for a snooze on the rocks.

Sea lions can walk on all four flippers, and we found them in some spots far away from the water, and across uncomfortable territory for walking when your belly is this close to the ground. We were sometimes lax in our conversation, calling them seals for short, but Hanzel corrected us. Seals are a different animal, and we shouldn't get in the habit of using the wrong term. Also sea lions have external ears, and seals do not.

I didn't have an underwater camera, but Kevin Loughlin took some terrific sea lion videos on one of his other trips. The rule is, if the sea lion starts to play with you, he's allowed to do what ever he wants - tug on your flippers, blow bubbles in your face, or just swim circles around you, literally! You, on the other hand, cannot initiate any such play, nor do anything to discourage a sea lion biting on your fins. But it's exciting to be included in the sea lion fun any time!


Kathiesbirds said...

Great pics and info but where were you when these shots were taken? I have no idea even what STATE you are in!

Mary Howell Cromer said...

These are all so lovely! Being from California, I really like them...Fun pic with Dick lying along side the pup~